The Tampa Bay Rays are coming off a very disappointing homestand. Their problems, however, extend back much further than that.
A nine-game trip provides the struggling Rays with a chance to make up ground in the wild-card race, and they hope to start Tuesday night against the Baltimore Orioles in the opener of a three-game series.
Since it was tied for first place in the AL East on June 11, Tampa Bay (49-47) has gone 14-22 to fall well off the pace in the division. With two wild cards, a third straight trip to the postseason remains well within their grasp, but the Rays will need to find a way to generate more offense.
Tampa Bay ranks near the bottom of the league in runs (396) and batting average (.232) and those deficiencies were evident on a recent homestand. Despite facing two of the AL's worst pitching staffs in Boston and Cleveland as well as last-place Seattle, the Rays averaged 3.3 runs and hit .234 while losing six of 10.
"The offense has been challenged lately,'' manager Joe Maddon said. ''We just have to figure out how to score more runs.''
It was more of the same Sunday when Tampa Bay managed five hits in 2-1 loss to the Mariners. The Rays batted .183 with runners in scoring position on the homestand.
"It's a difficult moment because we really did not take advantage of some pretty good opportunities over the last couple days,'' Maddon said. ''When you get that kind of pitching, you don't want to lose. So we have to figure out a way to get beyond that.''
This trip continues with three games each against the Los Angeles Angels and Oakland - two of the four teams ahead of Tampa Bay in the wild-card standings.
"This road trip, we'll be playing teams that are right there with us, so this will be a big trip for us, and it starts Tuesday," said scheduled starter Jeremy Hellickson.
Another club in front of the Rays in the wild-card race is the Orioles (51-45), who had a season high-tying five-game win streak snapped with a 3-1 loss at Cleveland on Monday.
''I know our guys feel like there was a game there to be won, with the pitching we got,'' manager Buck Showalter said.
Excellent starting pitching keyed the run for Baltimore, which has received six straight quality starts for the first time since May 10-15, 2011. The starters are 5-1 with a 2.21 ERA in that span after going 1-5 with a 6.22 ERA in the previous six.
Wei-Yin Chen (8-5, 3.80 ERA) will try to extend that streak as he faces Tampa Bay for the second time in his rookie season. The left-hander ended a personal three-game losing streak with a 4-3 victory at Minnesota on Thursday, overcoming a shaky first inning to allow three runs and six hits in seven innings.
Chen struggled in a 5-0 loss at Tampa Bay on June 1, yielding five runs and a season-high four walks in 5 2-3 innings.
Hellickson (4-6, 3.55) has contributed to the Rays' struggles, going 0-6 with a 4.29 ERA in nine starts since beating Boston on May 16. He also hasn't received much support with his teammates scoring 3.22 runs per game during that stretch.
The right-hander left without a decision Wednesday against Cleveland, giving up three runs and five hits over six innings in his third straight quality start.
Hellickson is 4-2 with a 2.36 ERA lifetime against the Orioles but was a tough-luck 2-1 loser at Tropicana Field on June 2.
Adam Jones is 6 for 19 (.316) with a pair of homers off Hellickson.
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